Book Rating System

Here at The Speculative Post, we have a fairly rigorous system of reviewing and rating books. (At least, we’d like to think so.) We’ve been going for a bit now, and it occurs to me (Janea, the editor-in-chief/main-monkey-wrangler, who apologies about being a ghost for the past two months (more on that some other day)) that we’ve never actually told our readers what our criteria are. We show you a breakdown of the star rating, but you never actually see how we come up with those ratings, and we’ve only mentioned once that there are actual numbers behind those star ratings. So, below you’ll find an explanation of our system. This is what SP Staff has used to rate books since the very beginning of our site, and we use it for every book that gets a review on our site. This system is related to, and loosely based on, the systems for rating books used by The Ranting Dragon, a website several of us worked on before founding The Speculative Post.

Each overall rating has five sections, each made up of five questions. The reviewer rates the book in response to each question on a basis of 1-10 for score (10 being better than 1), for a total of 50 points per section. Each section generates a star rating viewable to our readers when a review is opened.

  • 5 Stars = 46-50 points scored in that section
  • 4 ½ Stars = 41-45 pts
  • 4 Stars = 35-40 pts
  • 3 ½ Stars = 30-34 pts
  • 3 Stars = 25-29 pts
  • 2 ½ Stars = 20-24 pts
  • 2 Stars = 15-19 pts
  • 1 ½ Stars = 10-14 pts
  • 1 Star = 5-9 pts

Each section rating is then aggregated into an overall star rating. This is the main star rating seen on the top of the review, with the breakout appearing below the publisher blurb.

  • 5 Stars = 226-250 pts
  • 4 ½ Stars = 201-225 pts
  • 4 Stars = 176-200 pts
  • 3 ½ Stars = 151-175 pts
  • 3 Stars = 126-150 pts
  • 2 ½ Stars = 101-125 pts
  • 2 Stars = 75-100 pts
  • 1 ½ Stars = 50-74 pts
  • 1 Star = 25-49 pts

Now, the five sections, as well as the questions for those sections, are below, along with a brief description about what each section talks about in general.

Rating Questionnaire

The setting of the book relates to the place/time/world the book is set in. If the book is not set in the world we live in, setting also relates to the worldbuilding of the author. This can also be thought of, does the book feel more like a sparsely dressed stage play, or an all encompassing blockbuster film (such as The Lord of the Rings)? Moreover, does that style of setting fit with the book itself?

  1. How do you rate the overall effectiveness of the setting? (1-10)
  2. How do you rate the originality of the setting? (1-10)
  3. How do you rate the execution of the concept? (1-10)
  4. How well does the setting of the book inform characterization? (1-10)
  5. How well does the setting of the book inform the plot? (1-10)
  6. Total score for setting: (out of 50 possible)

Characters are central to a book’s story. Characterization is the ability of the author to effectively communicate a character’s personality, passions, and choices within the book.

  1. How do you rate the overall characterizations in the book? Are the actions of the character consistent with the information presented about them? (1-10)
  2. How would you rate your ability to relate to the protagonist? (1-10)
  3. How would you rate the effectiveness of the characterization of secondary characters? (1-10)
  4. How would you rate the effectiveness of the characterization of the antagonist? (1-10)
  5. How well do the characters’ personalities inform the plot? (1-10)
  6. Total score for setting: (out of 50 possible)

The plot is the series of events the characters interact with/cause. Ideally, the plot is paced to provide the characters and reader ample opportunity to react to new events and information while not leaving the reader time to disengage from the story while waiting for new events and information.

  1. How do you rate the overall effectiveness of the plot? (1-10)
  2. How well would you rate the plot’s pacing? Did you stay engaged, or were there slumps in activity? (1-10)
  3. How original was the plot? Or, if using a standard plot style (example, murder mystery), how would you rate the ingenuity of the style’s use? (1-10)
  4. How would you rate the author’s ability to present new information? Was it predictable, or did things catch you off guard? (1-10)
  5. How well did the author use foreshadowing? (1-10)
  6. Total score for setting: (out of 50 possible)

Writing Mechanics deal with the author’s prose, overall grammar and sentence structure, and voice. This section can also be thought of as ‘on what an English major would rate the book.’

  1. How would you rate the author’s overall writing style and skill? (1-10)
  2. How would you rate the author voice? Was it compelling and suitable to the characters, setting, and plot? (1-10)
  3. How appropriate is the author’s language to the book’s target audience? Is it an adult book written with juvenile vocabulary, or a juvenile book with adult language? (1-10)
  4. How well does the author handle the balance between dialog and prose? (1-10)
  5. How effective is the author’s dialog? (1-10)
  6. Total score for setting: (out of 50 possible)

Genre refers to the genres and/or sub-genres the book falls into. Each genre and subgenre has certain requirements, as well as standard elements (or tropes).

  1. How well does the book fit into its genre or subgenre? (1-10)
  2. How well did the book use genre standard plot devices, characters, story elements, and/or other tropes? (1-10)
  3. How well were genre elements such as magic, technology, or non-human creatures used? (1-10)
  4. How well did the Setting, Characters, Plot, and Mechanics inform the genre? (1-10)
  5. Does this book expand its genre and/or does it add something (depth, new elements, quality of work, etc) to the genre that was not previously there? (1-10)
  6. Total score for setting: (out of 50 possible)

Total Score for the book: (out of 250 possible points). This is what you see at the top of each review.

As you can see, this is a fairly intensive questionnaire, and the detail and depth of the questions do mean that some books that are very good will fall short on at least one category. It’s also possible to fall short on multiple categories and still maintain a four star review. We publish the expanded star ratings so that readers can better understand the overall rating. For example, Station Eleven received four stars overall, but did strike out on the Genre and Characterization sections. On that same day, Undercity also received a four star review, but did so by scoring much more evenly across the rating system. It should also be noted that while a three or a three and a half starred book scores 50-70% of all possible points, we rarely hand out 5 star reviews (which score at least 90%). In fact, I believe there are less than 10 of them on the site. For the most part our star reviews do boil down to what Goodreads has: 3 is liked it, 4 is really liked it, 5 is loved it.